Monday, January 18, 2010

The godforsaken God...

In his book, "The Crucified God," Jurgen Moltmann unpacks Jesus' terrifying cry from the cross, "Mark 15:34 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" For Moltmann this passage is the keystone to everything that is Christian. He writes:
All Christian Theology and Christian life is basically an answer to the question which Jesus asked as he died... Either Jesus who was abandoned by God is the end of all theology or he is the beginning of a specifically Christian, and therefore critical and liberating, theology of life. (4)
Beyond this, Moltmann's other motivation for exploring this mysterious passage is to find a theology that can speak to the tremendous suffering of the world, which in his context was the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. Moltmann, who himself was a prisoner of war and repentant German soldier in WWII, explains:
Shattered and broken, the survivors of my generation were then returning from camps and hospitals to the lecture room. A theology which did not speak of God in the sight of the one who was abandoned and crucified would have nothing to say to us then. (1 Emphasis mine)
To unpack this passage and the theology around it Moltmann goes through some of the most difficult and heady trinitarian theology I've ever encountered. Although this is the case, his conclusion is simple, profound, and important. This is what I want to share with you today. Moltmann exclaims:
When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man's godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him. (276)
In short, Jesus; God in the flesh; on the cross became godless and godforsaken so that we the deservedly godless and godforsaken may experience communion with him. It's a true echo of Saint Paul who exclaims, "2 Corinthians 5:21 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

How did this revelation speak to Moltmann's quest to find a theology that can speak to the tremendous horrors of the Holocaust and specifically Auschwitz? He writes:
God himself hung on the gallows... If this is taken seriously, it must also be said that, like the cross of Christ, even Auschwitz is in God himself. Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son, and the power of the Spirit... God in Auschwitz and Auschwitz in the Crucified God--This is the basis for a real hope which both embraces and overcomes the world, and the ground for a love which is stronger than death and can sustain death. It is the ground for living with the terror of history and the end of history, and nevertheless remaining in love and meeting what comes in openness for God's future. (278)
These thoughts from Moltmann have much to say to us today. Upon reading this I couldn't help but have Haiti in the back of my head. Does Moltmann's theology hold up in the face of that suffering? Well, from my removed perspective I cannot give an answer. What I do know is that in understanding that God himself died a violent godforsaken death on the cross I may have fellowship with him in my sufferings whatever they may be. In fact, it is often in those moments of godforsakenness and suffering that I find God is paradoxically the most present. Or as the author of Hebrews simply puts it:
Hebrews 2:18 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:15-16 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


Moltmann, Jurgen. "The Crucified God"


Jay Miklovic said...


Jesse said...

Shawn, thank you, for posting this. I am writing a dissertation on the Godforsaken experience of Jesus on the cross and its relevance to the physical suffering of mankind and your write-up, review, and summary of the book of Moltmann on his book, The Crucified God has given me more enlightenment. By this, you have helped me a lot to formulate my thoughts. I am greatly blessed! More power to your ministry.

Shawn said...

Thanks Jesse!